Merck to ax R&D staff while also boosting research site investment

Merck sign

Merck will be giving with one hand and taking away with the other as it confirms cuts across its discovery and early-stage R&D businesses, but said it will also be boosting investment in two research sites.

A Merck spokesperson told FierceBiotech: “Within Merck Research Laboratories, we are making some organizational changes within our discovery, preclinical and early development area.”

The Big Pharma said it would be increasing its investment in “exploratory biology” in Cambridge, MA, and the San Francisco Bay area, but it also confirmed that there will be cuts.

“Unfortunately, these changes will result in workforce reductions at our Kenilworth and Rahway, NJ, sites and our North Wales, PA, screening facility as we shift resources and personnel,” the company said.

While not going public on an exact breakdown of the changes, or just how many staff will get pink slips, the company did say it expects around “10% of discovery, preclinical and early development colleagues will be impacted, including separations and employee moves.”

On the investment side, Merck noted its expansion of the company’s early discovery research capabilities, saying it is stumping up more cash into the new labs in Cambridge.

“Research will focus on emerging science, agnostic of therapeutic area,” the spokesperson said, adding that its initial exploratory research will include “host-pathogen interactions and the role of the microbiome in disease processes.” The site is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

The company is also looking to put up more funding for a new research site in the San Francisco Bay area, with a focus specifically on cardiometabolic disease and oncology discovery. It sees an early 2017 occupancy of a temporary facility in South San Francisco, which it is looking to fill with around 100 scientists.  

It’s also in the “final stages” of its search for a long-term location where it is looking to house and consolidate its oncology and I/O, biologics and CMR discovery work into a combined research site.

“Our Palo Alto site will continue to focus on immuno-oncology and biologics and vaccines discovery until the long-term facility is up and running,” Merck said.

This comes around 3 years after Merck, in a $2.5 billion restructuring plan, axed 8,500 staffers--with much of the money saved up for use on research spending and deals. This went hand-in-hand with a rethink on its R&D strategy.

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